How to Avoid the Biggest Job Ad Red Flags

Recruiting can be a challenge in the best of times; writing the perfect job ad, managing the applications and spending hours on interviews in the hopes you’ll find the perfect person to join your team.

The current tight labour market has undoubtedly made the process of recruiting staff all the more difficult. According to SEEK’s 2021 Year in Review report, the job website saw record-breaking job ad numbers coupled with a decline in the number of applications per job. This was caused by a smaller talent pool available to fill roles and a nation of workers more conscious of job security.

As a result, it’s more important than ever to ensure you put your best foot forward to find the talent you need.

Kirsty Anne Ferguson, founder of Interview Chix offers professional advice to businesses and candidates for successful job-seeking. An expert in this field, Ferguson says that nailing the language in your job ad is a simple yet effective first step to attract new hires: “Although it can be tempting to use buzzwords and ask for a ‘superstar’ or ‘guru’, you need to think carefully about the language you use in your job ads and what that might say to candidates. Switch seats from the hirer to candidate when you write your job ad, what would attract or repel you as a candidate?”

In fact, SEEK data* reveals phrases in job ads that are most likely to be seen as immediate ‘red flags’ by job seekers, with some recruiting favourites making the cut.

So what are the top red flags, and how can you rephrase them to avoid scaring away top talent?

Wearing ‘many hats’

Although this is a phrase you’ve likely seen in a slew of job ads (or even written yourself), this term is the biggest red flag to job seekers. One-third of Kiwis (34%) think that this common descriptor is one of the signs they should have paid attention to in a previous role.

“To candidates, this popular phrase can often give the impression that they’ll be expected to do work outside their job description. While some may thrive in an environment like this, it may be best to retire this phrase and instead stick to the actual ins and outs of the job for the ad. You can assess cultural fit, or ‘how’ someone works at an interview. A job ad’s primary role is to attract talent,” explains Ferguson.

We're Like Family Here

The concept of a close-knit work culture may be an attractive bonus for some, but for others, it is a big red flag. Job ads that describe the work culture as operating “like a family” turn off as many as one in five (21%) potential candidates, with many Kiwis viewing the phrase as a sign that there are no boundaries.

“With home offices and hybrid working becoming the new normal since COVID-19, it can be a challenge to distinguish clear boundaries between our professional and personal lives. Almost all Kiwis (99%) value having a healthy work/life balance and setting boundaries is key to protecting this.

“Instead of describing your workplace as ‘like a family’, Ferguson suggests highlighting other work culture positives, such as team building days, flexibility and professional development opportunities. A phrase I use to show a care-based culture’ is ‘people come first.”

Under-resourced and overworked

Most business owners would agree that they look for employees who have a strong work ethic. While this may be the case, there are a few common phrases that could send candidates running for the hills.

Key red flag phrases include ‘a high-performance culture’ (17%), a ‘strong start-up culture’ (10%) and lines such as ‘get ready to get your hands dirty’ (14%).

“These phrases can give the impression that the business is under-resourced and over-worked. Even those with the best work ethic could be scared away with fears of burnout, so it could be best to avoid these expressions altogether unless you’re an actual start-up. Using more tangible statements can attract the right job seeker. Those that identify work methodology and motivation such as ‘project or deadline driven’ or ‘motivated by ideas and challenges ‘ are exciting and will send people your way who know themselves and what they can contribute,” explains Ferguson.

Work hard, play hard

Although many businesses boast about their ‘work hard, play hard’ culture, this style of work isn’t for everyone. Similar to some of the signs previously mentioned, there are some specific red flags Kiwis say they found either in the job ad or shortly after starting the job.

Although it sounds like something straight out of the Google campus, 12% of Kiwis said they found the use of “sleep pods” in a current or previous workplace to be a red flag.

Similarly, one in ten highlighted having dinners together with their colleagues regularly was a red flag, as it means they are often expected to work overtime.

“Employers need to think carefully about what perks or benefits they are offering. Although some may feel as though they’re for the employees, it could appear to the job seeker that it’s really only beneficial to the company and give the impression that they might be headed straight for burnout.

“To avoid any issues, think about the perks you’re offering, how you communicate the benefits with current and potential employees and perhaps get a friend or mentor to sense-check anything you’re unsure about. Take regular stock of what benefits your current employees actually use and appreciate, to gain perspective.”

*July 2021 Sherlock Report - Independent research conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK.